Balance Problems for Multiple Sclerosis Patients Come from T Cells

Balance issues for multiple sclerosis patients may be caused by T cells malfunctioning, according to findings published in Immunity.

Balance problems frequently experienced by multiple sclerosis (MS) patients may stem from what researchers are terming a “faulty brake,” according to findings published in the journal Immunity.

Researchers from the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital observed a mutation in the gene Nlrp12 in mice models in order to determine what effects the mutation was having on immune cells (T cells). The T cells have what the researchers called a “faulty brake,” where the inflammation should be controlled. By identifying the root of the issue, the researchers believe they have found a potential target for new MS therapies, which can lead to more treatments for other immune diseases like colitis and atopic dermatitis.

The researchers found that the Nlrp12 gene was causing the T cells to malfunction in the mice models. Typically, the protein is supposed to inhibit T cells to control the inflammatory response; however, the opposite effect was taking place, resulting in severe inflammation. This surprised the researchers the most. The inflammation caused by the faulty T cells did not cause paralysis, a trademark of MS, but instead, produced balance control problems.

This finding is important, the researchers said, because investigators in the past have struggled to reproduce these effects in laboratory settings. They believe their efforts can lead the way to better understanding MS and other autoimmune diseases, and maybe even cure them.

“It’s important to note that MS is a spectrum disorder — some patients present with paralyzing conditions and some patients don’t,” researcher John Lukens, PhD, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine Department of Neuroscience and its Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, explained in a press release. He did the research while at St. Jude’s and jointed the UVA faculty in November, the statement continued. “Not everybody's symptoms are the same, so this might give us a glimpse into the etiology or pathogenesis of that family of MS.”